After 24 hours of travel from her home in Flagstaff, Arizona, to Tokyo, Rachel Schneider was probably a bit tired and bleary-eyed when she arrived at her first Olympic Games.

But when the Sanford native got to the Olympic Village, “There was definitely that ‘WOW, I’m really at the Olympics!!!’ feeling.

“Pulling into the Village and going into the dining hall for the first time – where there are athletes of all sports from all over the world eating and intermingling – was just so exciting,” Schneider wrote in an email. “It’s hard to put into words but it’s cooler than I even imagined.”

Schneider, 30, is competing on the track in the 5,000 meters. She qualified by placing third at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in June in Eugene, Oregon, closely behind winner Elise Cranny and runner-up Karissa Schweizer, a pair of 25-year-olds who train together.

A high school standout at St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover, New Hampshire, Schneider was a seven-time All-American at Georgetown University before turning pro in 2014. She narrowly missed making the U.S. team for the 2015 world championship and failed to reach the final in the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials. She did compete in the 2019 world championships, placing 19th in the 5,000.

The 5,000 semifinals take place at 6 and 6:26 a.m. The top five finishers in each heat plus the next five fastest qualify for Monday’s final, scheduled for 6:40 a.m.

None of the Americans is considered a likely medal candidate, but based on their personal-best times, each has good reason to believe they can advance to the final.

“My goal is to give my absolute all in the race and represent Team USA to the best of my abilities,” Schneider said.

Based on 2021 times, Schneider is the ninth-fastest woman in the field, with a personal best of 14 minutes, 52.04 seconds in May in Irvine, California. When looking at all-time personal bests, Schneider ranks 12th. Both Schweizer (14:26.34) and Cranny (14:48.02) have run faster, with their top times coming in the same race in 2020.

Schneider is in the second heat, which gives her the advantage of knowing the times from the first heat. Four women in Schneider’s heat have faster personal bests, including 2017 and 2019 world champion and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Hellen Obiri of Kenya. The heat also features world indoor 1,500-meter record holder Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia, who won her country’s Olympic trials in 14:13.02 – the fastest 5,000 this year. Eilish McColgan of Great Britain (14:28.55) and Cranny also have run faster.

The first heat, which includes Schweizer, appears deeper, with three of the 10 fastest women of all time in Ethiopians Ejgayehu Taye (14:14.09) and Senbere Teferi (14:15.24) and Kenya’s Agnes Jebet Tirop (14:20.68). Also in the first heat is Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, the 2019 world champion in both the 1,500 and 10,000. Hassan, who trains in Park City, Utah, plans to run all three distance events in Tokyo.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, no fans are allowed at competition events, and athletes are undergoing daily COVID testing. Several athletes have tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be able to compete.

“We get COVID tested every morning along with filling out a daily symptom/health check,” Schneider said. “I honestly don’t give it much mental space because stressing or worrying about ‘what if’ there’s a false positive is wasted energy.”

Instead, Schneider is making the most of her Olympic experience. Her Instagram account has photos of her posing at the Olympic rings, thanking Team USA sponsors for the generous supply of gear and swag, and showing the view from her Olympic Village room.

“The village is located on the water with gorgeous views,” she said.

On Wednesday after completing an 8-mile run around the Olympic Village, Schneider joined other athletes in a walk-through of Olympic Stadium, which hosted the track events at the 1964 Summer Olympics and was rebuilt in 2015 with seating for over 68,000 spectators.

“The stadium is stunning. Glad I got to see (it) before the actual race so I could get some of that ‘awe’ of it out,” Schneider said.

Schneider traveled to Tokyo with her fiance, Mike Smith, who is also her coach. Smith is not allowed in the athletes’ village because of COVID protocols and is staying in a nearby hotel. The two can get together during the day, which helps with the final workouts before the competition begins.

“(Tuesday) afternoon I met Mike at the Team USA High Performance Center which is about 35 minutes from the Olympic Village to do another run and a short workout on the track,” Schneider said. “(Thursday) I’ll do another short run around the Olympic Village in the morning, and then go back to the High Performance Center in the afternoon to do another short run and all my premeet drills and sprints.”


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